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Hill Training for Runners 101
By Rick Morris
If you ask a runner their opinion of hill training you will probably get a very specific and passionate answer . There is usually no middle ground when the subject of hill running comes up. Most runners either love hill running or hate hill running. I think you get those extreme answers because hill running is an extreme training technique. It's extreme for two reasons. Hill training can be an extremely difficult workout at times but hill running is also an extremely effective workout.
Of all the possible workouts you could do from endurance building long runs to speed enhancing interval track workouts there is one type of workout that improves nearly all of the various components of your running. You guessed it - hill training touches on nearly every training element.
The incline of a steep hill requires more muscle recruitment than level ground running and enhances your running specific strength, muscle elasticity and power. The additional stress of hill running also places greater demands on your energy producing systems and helps improve your lactate turn point and VO2 max. Running both uphill and downhill also forces you to run with a more efficient stride which helps train and improve your neuromuscular conditioning, running mechanics and running economy. There is simply no other single workout than hill training at improving your overall running fitness.
Hill Running Mechanics
Efficient hill running begins with the correct running form and mechanics. Proper hill running form is really no different than running over flat terrain. The trick is to maintain your normal efficient running stride during both uphill and downhill running. When running uphill the incline of the trail can cause you run with your lead foot in front of your center of gravity which results in a high impact stride with a lot of the dreaded "braking effect" in which you are interrupting your forward momentum. The incline causes a decrease in the angle between the ground and your body. It's similar to running with an excessive forward lean on level ground. To keep your foot touchdown under your center of gravity you will need to run with slightly shorter strides. Keep your cadence high and run with smooth, quick and light strides. Try to envision using your momentum even when running up a steep hill. Lean slightly into the hill so that your body is just slightly forward of a vertical position
When running downhill try to avoid the tendency to reach out in front of your body with large strides to control your descent. Instead, use the decline to your advantage. Let the hill carry you down and concentrate on maintaining a foot strike directly under your center of gravity. Run very light, quick strides and smoothly glide down the slope.
Hill training is like any other kind or running workout. When you do interval training you perform some short fast repeats and some longer repeats at a more moderate pace. There are many different long run distances. Tempo training is performed at a variety of distances and paces. Hill training is no different. There are a number of different types of hill workouts that will emphasize specific training needs and goals.
Short Hill Repeats
Short is a relative term when it comes to hill training. Short hill repeats generally refer to run up a moderate to steep hill of between 100 and 200 meters. But when you are running at a fast pace up a steep hill, even 100 meters can feel like a long distance. Short hill repeats are performed at a very hard, nearly all out pace and are intended to improve your neuromuscular conditioning, running strength, running economy and speed. Since these hill runs are performed at a fast, anaerobic pace, your recovery should be a walk or very easy jog back down the hill. The exact length and number of repeats depends upon your goal. If you are doing this run on a treadmill set the elevation to between 10% to 15%. See the table below for some recommendations.
Moderate Hill Repeats
As length of your repeats increases, your pace will decrease. A moderate hill training run is usually a repeat of between 200 and 400 meters in length. Your moderate hill pace should be between a hard and very hard pace or right around your 5K to 3K race pace on a moderate to steep hill incline or a treadmill set at 8% to 12% elevation. This type of workout will also build your neuromuscular conditioning , running economy and running strength in addition to improving your lactate turn point and power. Your recommended recovery is an easy jog back down the hill. Here just a few recommended moderate hill repeat sequences.
Long Hill Repeats
Don't worry, long hill repeats aren't the same as long runs. You won't be doing 25 mile hill repeats. Most long hill repeats are between 400 meters and 800 meters in length. These hill runs are best done on a moderate to steep incline or a treadmill at between 8% and 12% elevation. Your pace on long hill repeats should be hard or around 5K race pace. Long hill repeats improve your running economy, lactate turn point, stamina, power and mental conditioning. Your recovery should be an easy jog back down the hill.
Steady State Hill Runs
A steady state hill run is very similar to a tempo run except you should do it on a very long, moderate incline of between 5% and 8%. A steady hill run is great at improving your lactate turn point, power and running economy as well as improving your stamina and endurance. Your pace during a steady state hill run will vary between an easy pace and a moderately hard pace 10K pace depending upon your goal and the distance of your hill run. The distance of a steady state hill run can be anywhere from 2 miles to 20 miles depending upon your current fitness level and your goal race.
Rolling hills are an entry level hill workout for new hill runners, but can also be a highly effective hill workout for more experienced runners. Rolling hills training is done on a trail or course with changing terrain in which you switch frequently between uphill and downhill running. This type of hill training is great for a new hill runner because the changing terrain allows some recovery time for rapidly fatiguing muscles and because it adds some variety. It's an excellent hill run for more experienced runners because it mimics the terrain of many mountain or urban trail races. The distance of this type of hill workout will vary greatly from 2 miles to over 20. Your pace will also vary depending upon the length of your hill workout and your goal race. You can do this type of hill run on a treadmill by frequently changing the incline between 0% and 10% elevation. Your pace will vary depending upon your goal race and the distance of your workout.
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